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Dame Myra Hess Day at the National Gallery

Issued: August 2009

A special day of events honouring Dame Myra Hess – who initiated, directed and performed in a series of legendary concerts at the National Gallery during the Second World War – will take place on 6 October.

The concerts provided a cultural oasis for the thousands who remained in London during the war years. This year the National Gallery celebrates the 70th anniversary of the concerts, which began soon after war was declared.

Lunchtime and evening concerts will take place in the National Gallery’s Barry Rooms (Room 36), the location at which the original wartime concerts were held.

Supported by The Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation, this will be the fourth annual Myra Hess Day that has taken place at the National Gallery. This year, award-winning British actress Patricia Routledge ('Keeping Up Appearances', 'Hetty Wainthropp Investigates') and international concert pianist Piers Lane tell the extraordinary story of Myra Hess and the wartime National Gallery concerts in Admission: One Shilling.

Patricia Routledge will perform a monologue of Dame Myra’s own words – taken from letters, books and interviews – accompanied by piano music associated with her. Music will include works by Scarlatti, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin and the theme by Bach made famous by Myra Hess: 'Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring'.

For 2009 a special emphasis will be placed on the celebration of young musicians – a theme very close to Myra Hess’s heart. Throughout her career, Dame Myra showed an outstanding commitment to the training of young musicians, and she was even known to assist students by refusing fees and offering her time free in order to help them develop their talent.

The lunchtime concert will be performed by the Yehudi Menuhin School Orchestra and pianists Min Young Bae and Danny Driver. They will play works by Purcell, Mozart and Howard Ferguson – Dame Myra Hess's tireless adviser throughout the Second World War.

The evening concert will be performed by a number of the most outstanding winners of the Dame Myra Hess Award, which has been presented by the Musicians Benevolent Fund since 1968. This concert will include a performance by Martin Jones, the first recipient of the Myra Hess Award. Today the award is made to outstanding pianists studying at postgraduate level, continuing Dame Myra’s legacy.

The National Gallery remained a vital part of London life despite being hit nine times by enemy bombs during the Blitz. Although the Old Master paintings were not on show – temporarily relocated to a secret location in Wales – Londoners were drawn to the Hess concerts . Dame Myra organised daily concerts at the Gallery for six and a half years, from 10 October 1939 until 10 April 1946. By the time the final performance came to a close, 1,698 concerts had been attended by a total of 824,152 people and more than £16,000 had been given to the Musicians Benevolent Fund.

For Myra Hess these concerts offered a wonderful opportunity ‘to give spiritual solace to those who are giving all to combat the evil’.

Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery during the Second World War, described the people who attended the concerts thus:

‘All sorts. Young and old, smart and shabby, Tommies in uniform with their tin hats strapped on, old ladies with ear trumpets, musical students, civil servants, office boys, busy public men; all sorts had come.’

For press information contact:

 Nicola Jeffs: 020 7747 2532 /

For public information call 020 7747 2885, or visit the collection online


Notes to Editors

Dame Myra Hess Day – Tuesday 6 October 2009

Lunchtime Concert
1–2.15pm, Room 36
£5/£3 concessions

Purcell arr. Britten: Chacony in G minor for strings
[2009 is also the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth]

Mozart: Piano Concerto in E flat major, K. 449
Soloist: Min Young Bae

Ferguson: Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra
Soloist: Danny Driver 

Yehudi Menuhin School Orchestra 
Conductor: Malcolm Singer

Admission: One Shilling
3.30–4.30pm, Sainsbury Wing Theatre
Tickets £5/£3 concessions

Patricia Routledge will read a monologue as Dame Myra Hess, her words taken from letters, books and interviews given by Dame Myra, Howard Ferguson and Sir Kenneth Clark and collated by her great-nephew, Nigel Hess. The reading will be interspersed with short piano pieces from Hess’s repertoire, played by Piers Lane, to include:

Schubert: A selection of German Dances, D 783
Schumann: Eusebius from Carnaval
Brahms: Intermezzo, Op. 119 No. 2
Chopin: Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27 No. 2
Beethoven: 2nd movement, Appassionata Sonata
Matthay: Elves [Matthay was Myra Hess’s teacher]
Brahms: Waltz in A flat major
Schubert: Impromptu in B flat
Scarlatti: Sonata in G
Bach/Hess: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Evening Concert
7.30–8.45pm, Room 36
£5/£3 concessions

Ferguson 'Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 8'
Piano: Martin Jones [the first winner of a Myra Hess Award in 1968)

Beethoven 'Sonata in F, Op. 24 (the ‘Spring’ sonata)'
Violin: Corina Belcea [Myra Hess Award winner 1999, founder and leader of the renowned Belcea String Quartet]
Piano: Carole Presland [Myra Hess Award winner 1989, now a well-known chamber musician and professor]


Bach: 'The Goldberg Variations'
Piano: Joanna MacGregor [Myra Hess Award winner 1983, now an internationally famous pianist]

To book tickets visit

The evening concert features recipients of Myra Hess Awards given by the Musicians Benevolent Fund, competed for on an annual basis since 1968. The money originally raised from the wartime concert series was donated to the fund, so it is appropriate in this 70th anniversary year to involve some of the outstanding winners of Myra Hess Award.

Dame Myra Hess Awards

The Myra Hess Awards are made available through the Myra Hess Trust, which was founded in 1966 by Beryl Davis and Howard Ferguson. The original trustees were Beryl, Howard, Donald Gowing, Denis Matthews, Yfrah Neaman and the Musicians Benevolent Fund. In the following two years, a campaign of fundraising in the UK and the United States involving schools, universities, venues and music lovers was undertaken, raising £24,300 (£294,700 in today’s money). Initially the trust gave awards to assist graduates of all instrumental disciplines once they had left college to enter the profession. More recently awards have made solely to outstanding pianists studying at postgraduate level, to reflect the particular significance of Myra Hess as a pianist. The inaugural Myra Hess Award was presented to pianist Martin Jones in 1968.

The Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation

Dame Myra Hess Day is supported by The Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation. The foundation was set up some years ago by Ernest Hecht, one of England’s major independent book publishers, with the aim of helping the disadvantaged and promoting the advancement of the arts and education.

For public information on National Gallery exhibitions and events please contact 020 7747 2885 /, or visit

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